Helen Thomas, the longest-serving White House correspondent in the Washington press corps, has a few choice words for President Barack Obama in his battle against Fox News: "Stay out of these fights."
Speaking on MSNBC's Morning Joe, the Hearst Newspapers columnist, who as White House correspondent has covered every president since John F. Kennedy, told Obama: "They can only take you down. You can't kill the messenger."
Thomas was speaking after yet another round of Sunday talk shows in which senior White House staffers blasted Fox News for its coverage of their administration. That follows a month of what amounts to a White House boycott of Fox News, ever since the Fox network failed to run the president's address on health care to a joint session of Congress in September.
Host Joe Scarborough played clips of senior presidential adviser David Axelrod declaring that Fox "is not really news," while White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told the media Fox News is "not a news organization so much as it has a perspective."
Donny Deutsch, a former advertising executive and MSNBC host, told Scarborough that the White House shouldn't even mention Fox by name. Not mentioning your opponent's name is "marketing 101," he said.
"They are elevating Fox," Deutsch said. "Think about this. It's the president of the United States, the commander of the free world, versus a television network with a couple million viewers."
Scarborough, himself a former US House representative, pointed out that Fox's ratings have been "through the roof" since the White House began attacking it by name. "What did the Bush White House do when they were compared to Nazis and fascists? The Bush White House did nothing, they didn't elevate it."
But Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski disagreed with that line of argument, saying the White House's portrayal of Fox News as the official voice of the opposition "may be strategically smart."
"I think that perhaps it might be easier for them and strategically better down the road if the White House takes on these illegitimate Republican props, as opposed to someone who has real ideas who can take on White House policies," she said.
For his part, Scarborough said he believed the White House spat with Fox was simply the administration playing to its base.
"They attack Rush Limbaugh, they attack Glenn Beck, they attack all of these other people because they know their hard core base is going to love it, their hard core base is going to salivate. And they know they're not going to give them what they want when it comes to policy. They're not going to be able to shut down Gitmo the way they promised, they're not going to be able to get out of Iraq the way they promised. So what they're doing is playing to their hard core base."
Both Scarborough and Deutsch pointed out that, in fact, the Bush White House also had a policy of avoiding unfriendly media outlets -- such as MSNBC.
And "John McCain's campaign did the same thing," Scarborough said. "They went to the network chiefs and said, 'We're not coming'."
And in a very telling aside, Deutsch noted: "I don't think the American public understands the behind-the-scenes that goes on between Washington and the media. If they did, I think that's the way to kill their credibility."
This video is from MSNBC's Morning Joe, broadcast Oct. 19, 2009.